“Go hunting with your child, and not hunting for him.”
As good as that advice is, it cannot be taken literally in all situations. In some cases, parents may not have the experience or other requirements needed to supervise a young person in the woods while stalking wild turkeys or trying to decoy ducks. However, taken in a broader sense, it means that adults have a grand opportunity to do something positive in kids’ lives when they introduce them to healthy, fun, outdoor activities.
Whether it’s hiking, camping, boating, bird watching – whatever – it’s almost guaranteed to have a lasting impact.
Fishing is one of the very best things a grown-up can get youngsters involved in. Nearly all children have an affinity for angling with some kind of pole and line.
They just need someone to get them started and supervise their initial efforts. The person doing that doesn’t have to be an expert but they should keep some things in mind when planning an outing for a young fisherman. The following tips might
help. Most are the product of experience with the author’s own children, both of whom started fishing when they were about four years old. Some were picked up by watching other, smarter, folks.
- Focus on the kids.
Remember, it’s about them having a chance to catch a few fish and having fun – not about watching Dad land a trophy bass. Leave your ego at home and dial the stress meter back a notch or two.
- Let the youngsters help in the planning: what tackle and snacks to take, what time to get started, how to procure bait. Keep in mind that the last can sometimes be the most fun of all – digging for worms, netting minnows, catching crickets.
Hey, it’s all part of the program.
- Take snacks. It’s a scientific fact (I’ve done research) – fishing makes a person hungry. Carry some easy-to-keep, nutritious food that can be consumed with dirty hands. Fruit juice is a good alternative to sodas.
- Target easy-to-catch species. Children don’t really care about landing a whopper; they just want to catch a lot of something. Bream were custom made for youngsters and a hand-size bluegill on light tackle will give an angler all he can handle, no matter what his age. Pinfish play the same role in salt water. (Just don’t plan on eating the latter, they’re 90% bones.)
- Select tackle that is age-appropriate. A cane pole with a small (#6 or 8) hook, a piece of split shot and a colorful bobber is fun, easy to use and effective. A collapsible, fiberglass pole is also a good choice. If the young angler is ready to try
his hand at casting, a spin cast outfit is a good place to start. No matter what’s used, keep it simple.
- Make it safe. If the water is deep, a light, comfortable PFD may be called for.
North Carolina law require that all kids below the age of 13 be wearing one anytime they’re in a boat that is underway. Some basic instruction on handling sharp hooks and avoiding hazardous situations is also a good idea. (Hint: Flattening the barb with a pair of pliers beforehand makes it much easier to extract a hook if it does become necessary.)
- Keep it comfortable. Insect repellent, sun screen and a “lucky” fishing hat are essentials.
- Put the odds in your favor. Use bait that is most likely to get results. Worms, crickets or minnows are hard to beat in fresh water. In salt water, just about anything that swims will bite small pieces of shrimp or squid. Whatever is used, if the budding angler decides playing with it is more fun than fishing, who’s to say she’s wrong? In fact, gathering bait, if you decide to go that route, may be a highlight of the outing.
- Keep it short. Legendary showman, P.T. Barnum once said of his audience, “Always leave them wanting more.” His advice certainly applies to children and their early fishing experiences. Stop before it becomes too taxing – for the adult as well as the youngster. A stop for ice cream on the way home can be a good way to celebrate the day.
- Have a bathroom plan. This may involve carrying toilet tissue and, possibly, a porta-potty if a regular restroom won’t be available. (On a small boat without a head, a plastic bucket and a light parka to cover up with while using it go far toward keeping little girls happy. Just make sure little boys don’t fall overboard while “tending to business.”)
- Have a Plan B. Just in case of inclement weather or other, unforeseen, factors.
- Have fun. This is, by far, the most important thing. A kid’s perception of the world is, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?” That attitude definitely pertains to fishing. If a young angler wants to bring a fish or two home to show Grandma, that’s alright.
Of course, that’s also a good time to explain why we have creel and size limits for some species, and how catch-and-release works. Digital photos can be shared with others and are permanent records of the event.
- The most important tip is to be patient, have fun and relish the moment. It’ll be gone before you know it.
Remember the “Andy Griffin Show?” It always began with the star character and his son walking down to their favorite fishing hole, carrying their rods and smiling. Millions of viewers can still envision that iconic scene and whistle the show’s theme song. They instinctively understand that Andy Taylor had the right idea - he took his son fishing. And, as I recollect, Opie turned out alright. So did his dad.
Ed Wall can be reached at email@example.com or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com